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Maple Leafs' Wilson named US Olympic coach

Monday, 04.06.2009 / 12:41 PM / News

Associated Press

Ron Wilson was chosen Monday to lead the U.S. men's hockey team at the 2010 Vancouver Games, the second time the Toronto Maple Leafs coach has been given the Olympic job.

Wilson, a USA Hockey fixture as a player and coach for over 30 years, guided the Americans to the quarterfinals at the 1998 Nagano Games. He will also serve as the coach of the American team later this month at the world hockey championship in Switzerland.

His greatest accomplishment on the international stage came when he coached the U.S. to the gold medal at the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

Some players who starred on that club, such as Mike Modano, Bill Guerin, and Keith Tkachuk, are still active in the NHL and will merit consideration when the Olympic roster is formed, but general manager Brian Burke made it clear that next year's club will be much younger.

Get used to names like Anaheim rookie Bobby Ryan and New York Islanders counterpart Kyle Okposo.

"We're going to have a young team, we're going to have an aggressive team. We want to play an attacking style," Wilson said during a conference call. "That's what I've tried to kind of incorporate here in Toronto with a very young team and an inexperienced team. We've had a little bit of success playing that way and I'd like to continue that."

Canada, along with Russia and Sweden and Finland - the opponents in the 2006 gold medal game - will be considered favorites. Canada will have the biggest advantage by playing at home.

"We intend to field a competitive team. We're going there to win. I've made no bones about that," Burke said. "We understand the odds. We understand that we'll probably be the youngest team in the field. We understand that there won't be a whole lot of people pulling for us in that marketplace and there won't be a lot of people that think we can do this, but we think we can."

Wilson got the job over New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and former Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, who was behind the bench at the 2006 Turin Olympics when the United States was again eliminated in the quarterfinals.

The decision was made by a committee headed by Burke, the Maple Leafs general manager who holds the same position for the U.S. Olympic team as well as the upcoming world championship. The committee also consisted of Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, Ray Shero of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville's David Poile, and Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell, who put together the Olympic team in 2006.

Wilson became the logical choice because he and Burke were also teammates at Providence College under coach Lou Lamoriello, the longtime GM of the New Jersey Devils. Wilson became available to coach at the world championships because the Maple Leafs didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"Ronnie and I have been friends and teammates going back 30-plus years and there will be people who say, 'Isn't this convenient that Burkie picked his best buddy,"' Burke said. "I will tell you that when we talked about the head coaching job for Switzerland and Vancouver I did not weigh in until the rest of the committee had done so, but I think we'd be fools to pass on Ron Wilson because he is a buddy of mine, which he is.

"He's also, we feel, the best coach to give us the best chance of success in Switzerland and Vancouver."

The 53-year-old Wilson, in his first year as Maple Leafs coach after stints with the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Washington Capitals over 14 other NHL seasons, was born in Windsor, Ontario, and is a citizen of both the U.S. and Canada. He was raised in Rhode Island.

Wilson guided the United States to an upset win over Canada in the three-game final at the 1996 World Cup. He was also behind the U.S. bench at the 2004 World Cup.

"I think the gold medal runs right through Canada," Wilson said. "We've never been intimidated by playing in Canada with Team USA. In '96, we had to win two games in Montreal and that ranks right up there in my career in terms of having fought with a group of people and meeting that type of a challenge.

"It's going to be a very tough environment to win in Vancouver, but I'm confident that our players are going to be up to it."

Wilson also represented the United States as a player on the national team in 1975, '81, '83 and '87.

"My involvement with USA Hockey goes way back, before it was even called USA Hockey," Wilson said. "I've been able to have a fairly decent playing career and I've turned that into a nice coaching career."

I was in there icing my face as she was trying to push a baby out.

— Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf on going to the hospital with a facial laceration while his wife was in labor following Game 1 on Wednesday